1854-June 1855

The Collected Letters, Volume 29


TC TO RALPH WALDO EMERSON; 13 May 1855; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18550513-TC-RWE-01; CL 29: 308-310


Chelsea, 13 May, 1855—

Dear Emerson,

Last Sunday, Clough was here; and we were speaking about you (much to your discredit, you need not doubt), and how stingy in the way of Letters you were grown;1 when, next morning, your Letter itself made its appearance.2 Thanks, thanks. You know not in the least, I perceive, nor can be made to understand at all, how indispensable your Letters are to me. How you are, and have for a long time been, the one of all the sons of Adam who, I felt, completely understood what I was saying; and answered with a truly human voice,—inexpressibly consolatory to a poor man, in his lonesome pilgrimage, towards the evening of the day! So many voices are not human; but more or less bovine, porcine, canine; and one's soul dies away in sorrow in the sound of them, and is reduced to a dialogue with the “Silences,” which is of a very abstruse nature!— Well, whether you write to me or not, I reserve to myself the privilege of writing to you, so long as we both continue in this world! As the beneficent Presences vanish from me, one after the other, those that remain are the more precious, and I will not part with them, not with the chief of them, beyond all.

This last year has been a grimmer lonelier one with me than any I can recollect for a long time. I did not go to the Country at all in summer or winter; refused even my Christmas at The Grange with the Ashburtons,—it was too sad an anniversary for me;—I have sat here in my garret, wriggling and wrestling on the worst terms with a Task that I cannot do, that generally seems to me not worth doing, and yet must be done. These are truly the terms. I never had such a business in my life before. Frederick himself is a pretty little man to me, veracious, courageous, invincible in his small sphere; but he does not rise into the empyrean regions, or kindle my heart round him at all; and his history, upon which there are waggon loads of dull bad books, is the most dislocated, unmanageably incoherent, altogether dusty, barren and beggarly production of the modern Muses, as given hitherto. No man of genius ever saw him with eyes, except twice Mirabeau,3 for half an hour each time. And the wretched Books have no indexes, no precision of detail; and I am far away from Berlin & the seat of information;—and, in brief, shall be beaten miserably with this unwise enterprise in my old days; and (in fine) will consent to be so, and get thro' it if I can before I die. This of obstinacy is the one quality I still shew; all my other qualities (hope, among them) often seem to have pretty much taken leave of me; but it is necessary to hold by this last. Pray for me; I will complain no more at present. General Washington gained the freedom of America chiefly by this respectable quality I talk of; nor can a History of Fk be written, in Chelsea in the year 1855, except as against hope, and by planting yourself upon it in an extremely dogged manner.

We are all woolgathering here, with wide eyes and astonished minds, at a singular rate, since you heard last from me! “Balaklava,” I can perceive, is likely to be a substantive in the English language henceforth: it in truth expressses compendiously what an earnest mind will experience everywhere in English life; if his soul rise at all above cotton and scrip, a man has to pronounce it all a Balaklava these many years. A Balaklava now yielding, under the pressure of rains and unexpected transit of heavy waggons; champing itself down into more mud-gulphs,—towards the bottomless Pool, if some flooring be not found. To me it is not intrinsically a new phenomenon, only an extremely hideous one. Altum Silentium [profound silence],4 what else can I reply to it at present? The Turk War, undertaken under pressure of the mere mobility,5 seemed to me an enterprise worthy of Bedlam from the first; and this method of carrying it on, without any general, or with a mere sash and cocked-hat for one, is of the same block of stuff. Ach Gott! Is not Anarchy, and parliamentary eloquence instead of work, continued for half a century everywhere, a beautiful piece of business? We are in alliance with Louis Napoleon (a gentn who has shewn only housebreaker qualities hitherto, and is required now to shew heroic ones, or go to the Devil); and, under Marichal Saint-Arnaud (who was once a dancing-master in this city, and continued a thief in all cities), a commander of the Playactor-Pirate description, resembling a General as Alexr Dumas does Dante Alighieri,6—we have got into a very strange problem indeed!— But there is something almost grand in the stubborn thickside patience and persistence of this English People; and I do not question but they will work themselves thro' in one fashion or another; nay probably get a great deal of benefit out of this astonishing slap on the nose to their selfcomplacency before all the world. They have not done yet, I calculate, by any manner of means: they are, however, admonished, in an ignominious and convincing manner, amid the laughter of nations, that they are altogether on the wrong road this great while (200 years, as I have been calculating often),7—and I shudder to think of the plunging and struggle they will have to get into the approximately right one again. Pray for them also, poor stupid overfed heavyladen souls!—

Before my paper quite end, I must in my own name, and that of a select company of others, inquire rigorously of R. W. E. why he does not give us that little Book on England he has promised so long?8 I am very serious in saying, I myself want much to see it;—and that I can see no reason why we all should not, without delay. Bring it out, I say, and print it, tale quale [however you can]. You will never get it in the least like what you wish it, clearly no! But I venture to warrant, it is good enough,—far too good for the readers that are to get it. Such a pack of blockheads, and disloyal and bewildered unfortunates who know not their right hand from their left, as fill me with astonisht, and are more and more forfeiting all respect from me. Publish the Book, I say; let us have it and so have done!— Adieu my dear friend for this time. I had a thousand things more to write, but have wasted my sheet, and must end. I will take another before long, whatever you do. In my lonely thoughts you are never long absent: Valete [farewell] all of you at Concord!

T. Carlyle